Corrections Department pays RSA survivor $300,000

Susan Couch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Susan Couch. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Department of Corrections has confirmed it will pay Susan Couch - the sole survivor of the Mt Wellington RSA massacre - $300,000 in punitive damages.

Ms Couch said while there was no formal apology, she'd take it.

Speaking on Campbell Live tonight, Ms Couch's lawyer Brian Henry said the payment represents $10,000 a year for 30 years.

"The fact that we got here isn't the end of the battle, it's the start of a different battle.

"We still need to get proper compensation. In terms of negligence actions, proper compensation is $10 million.

"She right now does not receive anything from ACC, she is on a benefit...so we are still looking for compensation. When I first met Sue, she was fighting ACC, IRD and social welfare."

Ms Couch said she had mixed emotions, but was exhausted by dealing with many government departments, which she admits will continue.

"This is the closest to the apology I will get. People don't realise that when they make an apology they are validating someone's suffering and not just ignoring them.

"It's not a formal apology, but its 'Whoops. Sorry. Our bad.', so I'll take it."

Ms Couch said she now had a new life.

"As human beings, we just want to be seen and know that we mean something or matter. So yeah, I am stubborn.

"It's a bird in the hand, which is why I accepted it, but I don't know what the repercussions would be."

Ray Smith, chief executive of the Department of Corrections, said he made contact with Ms Couch three weeks ago in the hope of settling the case.

"I think Susan has suffered extraordinarily, so I wanted to do the best I could with the backing of the Government. I tried to put together a figure that I thought recognised what happened to Susan and let her put this behind her in some way and start her life with a bit more financial security. But I was not ever going to meet everyone's expectations."

Mr Henry said the next step was to get to a place where Ms Couch can get compensation.

"This is a settlement of a claim to a punitive sum. ACC is the only place where you can get compensation from in New Zealand. Under the Act, Sue was entitled to such a measly sum, she had to go on social welfare."

Ms Couch was brutally bashed and left for dead by William Bell at the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA in December 2001.

Bell also murdered William Absolum, 63, cleaner Mary Hobson, 47, and garage door installer Wayne Johnson, 56, when he went into the RSA to steal $12,000.

He was under Corrections supervision at the time.

He had been released from prison after serving five years for aggravated robbery on conditions being monitored by Corrections, through the Probation Service.

Ms Couch sued Corrections for $500,000, alleging he was not being supervised properly when he committed his crimes at the RSA.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that Ms Couch could sue for damages for negligence and personal injury but there would be a high test for the claim to succeed.

Bell is serving a life sentence with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders and the attempted murder of Ms Couch.

- nzherald.co.nz

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